Gaius was worried.
Given, Gaius was always worried. The old man had been in a state of constant worry since the day his ward had set foot in Camelot two years ago. He woke up every morning with sweaty palms and a pounding headache, knowing that certainly this would be the day that he would finally die of a heart attack brought upon him by a certain raven-haired hooligan.
However, this was without a doubt the most worrisome he had been in his life. Merlin had asked the physician to stay quiet and allow him to deal with his own problems, but Gaius knew that deep down, all the boy wanted was a helping hand.
He knew that this could get both he and the boy he had grown to love as a son executed. He also knew that, in the slight chance that it turned out the way he hoped, the warlock would be furious. Merlin would most definitely tell him that it was none of his business and that he had no right to go revealing secrets to the king.
Yes, you read that correctly. Gaius was currently making his way through the halls of the palace, preparing himself to reveal something not only to the king, but the entire court. As secret that had been buried for nearly twenty years. The secret that Merlin had told no one. Not Lancelot, not Kilgharrah. A secret that he had not even mentioned around Gaius.
It was a good thing that he already knew.
As Gaius came to a stop in front of the door leading to the throne room, doubt began to creep into his mind. He could still change his mind. Mention something vague about a sorcerer being spotted in the forest and be done with it. But he couldn't sit around and watch his ward suffer. Not when he could help.
He knocked twice before entering, not really bothering to wait for a reply. He mentally smiled a bit. Perhaps Merlin had been rubbing off on him more than he cared to admit.
He walked in to find that the others had already arrived. A dozen old, hunched over men sitting around a long table, mumbling to themselves about wine and taxes. At the head of the table stood Uther, back straight so as to seemingly tower over those around him. By his side, the young prince, looking as though he would rather be mucking out stables with the servants than sitting in on some council meeting.
"Gaius." The king spoke, startling him out of his reverie. "I should hope that you have a good reason for calling us here."
Gaius opened his mouth, and then closed it again, contemplating how he should begin.
"My lord. . . I have never asked you for anything. In fact, I do pride myself in my ability to avoid anything that would require assistance from those with far much else to be worried about. However, I find myself incapable of figuring out any solution other than to ask your assistance. So I stand before you with a simple plea. Uther, I must beg for your help." Gaius ended his short speech with a short bow of his head, not daring to meet his king's eyes.
To say Uther was startled would be the understatement of the century. In all his years of knowing the man, he had never seen Gaius humble himself to the point of asking for help. Nevertheless, the king had always considered the old physician a friend. Family, in fact, though he rarely showed it. "Gaius, I have told you many a time that I consider you a brother. Anything that I can assist you with. All you have to do is ask."
Gaius gave a small, sad smile, and moved to look up at Uther. "I'm afraid it is not as simple as a question, sire. I must first explain the reasoning. Perhaps we should sit."
Uther gave a simple nod and lowered himself onto his seat, Gaius already having taken his place at the other side of the table. The council members looked slightly intrigued, but Arthur still looked bored out of his mind. Why was he required to be a part of this?
With a deep breath, Gaius began. "Has anyone in here heard of aiseirigh?" When no one answered, he continued:
"Aiseirigh is an ancient term, meaning resurrection or rebirth. Though, I suppose that, when used as a spell, it would be more accurately considered continuous birth. The spell, hypothetically, could be cast by a sorcerer or sorceress, but it would take incredible motive and centuries of practice, and even then would most probably kill he who cast it instantaneously. More likely it would be caused by a moment of immense, naturalmagic, th-"
"Natural magic?" Arthur questioned. "What the hell does that mean?"
Gaius huffed, obviously not pleased with having been interrupted. "The Earth itself is uses small amounts of harmless magical energy to keep it ever-changing. Such as a flower blooming or a child being born. What we have come to consider magic is a bit different. It is when a person, referred to as a sorcerer, learns to harness this natural energy in larger amounts and use it in – ah – unnatural ways. And yes, before you ask, there are those born into this world with the ability to use this energy at will and without learning or studying. These people are known as witches and warlocks."
Uther furrowed his eyebrows. "I wasn't aware that a person could be born with magic."
Gaius waved his arm in a dismissive gesture, careful not to let anything on. "It is incredibly rare, and was practically unheard of before the purge. You would be hard pressed to come across someone of this nature today. Especially in Camelot. However, back to the story.
"As I was saying, aiseirigh would have to be caused by some sort of disruption in the natural magical environment. Such as a great purge of magic. Were a woman to conceive a child during a period of time such as this, she could possibly become a victim of this energy. She would continue to find herself with child every three years, without the company of a man, until such time as she reached the age where she was no longer able to bear children. Under most circumstances, even with the natural environmental disruption, this would not even be a possibility. However, were the mother or father of the original child somehow connected to the magic that caused it, even unknowingly, could likely cause aiseirigh to take effect."
The room was silent for a moment, before Uther spoke, "Gaius, my friend, tell me you aren't saying what I think you are."
Gaius sighed again. He had been doing that a lot lately. "Unfortunately, sire, I am. Roughly twenty years ago, there was a victim. Her name was Hunith, and she was my sister."
Now Arthur was intrigued. "Your sister? I wasn't aware you have any living relatives, Gaius."
Gaius nodded. "She lived in a small village just outside the border of Camelot. From what I understand, she was the village healer. Around the time of the Great Purge, an injured man was found near their village. Naturally, she took it upon herself to nurture him back to health, and he stayed in the village for a period of time. After a few weeks, knights of Camelot tracked the man down and chased him from Ealdor. Hunith was unaware that she was harboring a sorcerer, so she was not considered guilty for any crime. Ealdor was left in peace until a few weeks later when she discovered she was with child. She gave birth, and three years later found herself once again carrying a baby. And again, and again. This has continued through the years, every three years since the Great Purge."
The king sat in silence while the council members discussed this new information. Arthur was looking at Gaius with an unreadable expression. "That poor woman." He murmured.
Gaius turned sharply to the prince. "Don't misunderstand me." He spoke. "Hunith loved those children more than anything. She wouldn't have given them up for anything, not even if she were offered the earth itself."
Uther, who had before been resting his chin in his hand thoughtfully, looked up. "Then what exactly is it you ask of me?"
Gaius shuddered as he took in a deep breath, looking down at his worn hands. "One year ago, Hunith passed away in childbirth. Ironic, yes, but it was her time. Her eldest son, who had already been living in Camelot at the time, took on extra hours and began sending most of his wages to his siblings, keeping the bare minimum for himself. The others were left in the care of his twin sister, who found a wet nurse for the newborn and continued to raise the others. They had planned to come and live with their brother when the baby was old enough to travel. Unfortunately, they haven't the money to live here in Camelot, and they would be outcasts anywhere else."
Arthur looked at Gaius curiously. "You say the eldest is in Camelot? With their background, isn't there a possibility that they could have magic?"
Gaius slowly nodded. "I regret to say that yes, the eldest is technically a warlock. However, before you react, please remember that he grew up outside of Camelot. Besides," Gaius spoke, quickly thinking up a lie. "He hasn't used magic since he was old enough to understand what it was. By now, it will have gone dormant if not have disappeared completely. He has my complete trust."
Uther nodded. "I suppose that does make sense. Where does he live, and can his siblings not live there with him?"
Gaius stood up straighter and opened his mouth to speak, but a voice interrupted him. One of the councilmen spoke up angrily. "Sire, if all of this is true, than what he is saying is that, dormant or not, he has been knowingly harboring a magic user in Camelot!"
Uther turned to the lord. "Must I remind you that your daughter was one of the many who practiced magic before the purge? And that I spared her life on the grounds that she swore her allegiance and gave up the practice?"
The small man cowered slightly. "Yes, but-"
"I have been merciful in the past, and this boy has not caused any trouble nor shown any signs of being against the kingdom in the past. And I shall not sentence my oldest friend to death because of a useless fact."
"Y-Yes, my lord." The councilman sat back down.
Uther turned back to the physician. "Now then, go on."
"As I was saying, sire," Gaius spoke almost hesitantly, "naturally, as my nephew, the boy lives with me."
Silence. Then –
"Merlin? You can't be serious!" Arthur exclaimed, disbelieving.
Uther looked sharply at him as he addressed Gaius. "I can't say I am not surprised. However, I should have guessed it before. It does make sense that he would live with his family. How old is the boy, twenty?
"Nineteen." Gaius corrected.
"And how many siblings does he have?"
The old man paused a moment while he counted. "Hunith had nine children in total, if I am not mistaken. She had two sets of twins."
Uther nodded. "Yes, that is quite a lot to handle. However, there is no reason as to why we shouldn't give the poor family a hand."
"Father?" Arthur questioned.
The king turned to his heir. "Do you disagree?"
Arthur waved his hand. "No, of course not. It is our duty to provide for our people. However, they are the product of magic, most of them anyways." Arthur still couldn't wrap is head around the fact that Merlin, of all people, was involved in this.
Uther pondered this. "Yes, good thinking." He turned to Gaius. "You would not object to me assigning someone to keep an eye on them? Just in case?"
Gaius shook his head, he was just relieved that his plan had worked.
"Very well then. Arrangements should be made for them to stay here in the castle. That way they shall not be wanting for shelter or security, and we can keep a close watch on them. Those old enough to work will be given positions. Is there anything else that you require, Gaius?"
Gaius smile widely. "No, Sire." Now he just had to figure out how to tell Merlin. . .
"You did WHAT?" Merlin was furious. No, he was more than furious. He boy was livid. Gaius was the one person on this planet that he could trust with anything, and he had gone and told the king about his magic.
"Calm down, Merlin, what's done is done. Besides, as far as anyone knows, you haven't used your magic in so long that it has ceased to exist." The physician reasoned.
"You know as well as I do that that isn't possible. My magic is my life source, I can't go more than a week without using it!" Merlin's heart was pounding so hard that he thought it would explode. The king was going to find out, and he was going to be executed, and then no one would be there to take care of the kids and they would end up beggars on the streets and eventually starve to death and the young ones would be sent to some horrible orphanage and eventually be separated and never know what had happened to him and-
"Merlin, deep breaths. No one but you or I knows anything about the extent of your reliance on your magic. Besides, you no longer have to worry about your family." Gaius reassured him.
"W-what?" Merlin stuttered, not quite sure what he was getting at.
"I called in a favor from the king, and-"
"Gaius, I asked you not to get involved!" Merlin complained.
"Just listen to me! The king has arranged for you and your family to reside in the castle for as long as need be. The older ones will be given places among the staff and you won't have to be afraid of them being picked off by bandits or whatever happens in that village of yours." Gaius joked, trying to lighten the mood. It worked.
Merlin was silent for a moment, absorbing the information. Then "Thank you thank you thank you!" Merlin have his signature grin and threw his arms around his uncle.
"Yes, yes. I've already sent for your siblings. They should be here tomorrow, so go finish your chores and get some rest. It'll be hectic with nine of you running around."
Merlin thanked him one last time before disappearing out the door, leaving the old man to dread the day to come.
Merlin pranced into Arthur's quarters enthusiastically the next morning, humming a few off-key notes as he placed the prince's breakfast on the table threw the curtains open.
"Good morning, sunshine!"
Merlin froze, turning around slowly to see a fully dressed and awake Arthur staring at him.
"Y-you're awake. Have I missed something?" He asked curiously.
Arthur looked him up and down and took a slow step closer. "Why are you in such a good mood?"
Merlin titled his head slightly. "I assume you already know, seeing as you were most likely there when Gaius decided to exploit all my deepest secrets to the king."
Arthur nodded. "Yes, I was." He paused, then, "You have magic."
Merlin froze. He squeezed his eyes shut tightly and tried to keep a calm expression on his face. "Yes."
"Gaius says that it's gone dormant." Arthur gave him an unreadable look. "So I did some research. Did you know that father never really burned all of the books on magic? He made a huge show of it of course, but those were simply old, useless textbooks and blank pages with worn binding. The real books are kept behind lock and key, in a secret room behind the library." The blonde moved to his breakfast and picked up an apple thoughtfully. "I snuck down there last night and found a book on warlocks. It turns out that they can die without using their gifts?" Arthur turned back to look at his manservant.
"I-I, that is, um-" Merlin was at a loss for words. He had known that someone would eventually figure him out, but he hadn't expected it to be so soon.
"You could have told me." Arthur spoke softly. Merlin's head shot up in surprise.
"You- I mean, you aren't going to kill me?" The raven-haired warlock stuttered.
Arthur smiled. "No. I think I may have known for a while actually. I mean, it makes sense. All of those clumsy bandits and conveniently placed tree limbs." At Merlin's blush, the prince chuckled. "Now that I know your story, there is no way I'd kill you. Besides, no one selfless enough to spend every spare moment working to provide for his younger siblings is going to be planning an attack on Camelot any time soon."
Merlin grinned. "I think you'd miss me if I died."
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Whatever gets you to sleep at night." He reached down and pulled a key out of his right boot. "Even my father doesn't know I know about this." He warned, pressing he key into his manservant's hand. "And if you get caught, it will be both of us tied to that pyre."
Merlin gazed at the key. It was simple: copper and lightweight. If it were dropped in the street, no one would think twice about it. "Is this . . .?"
"Third bookshelf from the left in the history wing of the library. The brown leather bound book is a fake. The book will get you in, the key will get you out. Don't get caught." Arthur said in a hushed, yet nonchalant voice, as if he and Merlin were discussing the state of his boots.
Merlin looked back at the key and smiled, putting it in his inside coat pocket.
"So." Arthur sat down at the table and took a bite of a sausage. "Tell me about these siblings of yours."
Merlin went over and began making the prince's bed. "What do you want to know?"
Arthur shrugged. "Start with the basics. I've volunteered to keep an eye on you for father, so I'll need to know what I'm getting myself into."
Merlin grinned and began to speak. "I'm the oldest, obviously, but my twin sister has always been the leader. She acts more like a knight than half of those under your employment, and is has been training herself to wield a sword since we were eight. She is a bit strange, that one. She wears men's trousers and boots because she says they're more comfortable, and she cuts her hair to her shoulders and ties it back, rather than allowing it to grow out like most women do."
"Oh?" Arthur was intrigued. He had met female warriors, of course, but they were most always of noble birth. "What's her name?"
"Amber Valerie, but she prefers Ameri." Merlin chuckled at the thought of his sister. She had always been their protector, fighting the monsters in the woods while Merlin scouted in the trees during their games as children.
"Right then, go on. What of the others?"
"Well, after that there is Tiergan. He's a bit of a troublemaker, that one, and a jokester. Reminds me a bit of Gwaine, actually. But he's a good kid for the most part. A hard worker, despite his complaints. He's sixteen. After that there are the other twins, Anni and Ada. They're identical, but it isn't really that difficult to tell them apart once you've figured them out. Ada tends to be just a bit quieter, but don't let that fool you. She can scream until your ears bleed if she doesn't get her way, whereas Anni will just trick you into giving her what she wants. Those two are thirteen."
"Sounds like a handful." Arthur commented.
"You have no idea. After that is Forest, the ten year old. He's the artist, can paint or draw anything and everything if he puts his mind to it. He communicates through his art, actually. He isn't mute, really, but he isn't a fan of talking. In fact, I don't think I've ever heard him talk at all." Merlin mused.
"Then how do you know he isn't mute?"
Merlin looked sheepish. "We, uh, how do I put this." He was silent for a few moments before continuing. "We've been working in the fields our entire lives, and it gets a little boring. One day I guess one of us started singing to pass the time, and it's just sort of been our thing ever since. Our own little tradition."
Arthur raised an eyebrow. "Singing."
Merlin nodded again. "Yes."
"Sing for me."
"Because I don't want to, you prat!" Merlin shot.
"Idiot." Arthur countered.
"That's my word!"
Arthur rolled his eyes at his manservant and tossed the warlock an apple. "Eat, you've got a long day ahead of you."
Merlin took a bite of the apple. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you cared."
"Of course not, I just don't want you collapsing of starvation before I get the chance to hit on your warrior sister." Arthur winked. Merlin shook his head and threw a pillow at the prat. "What?" Arthur inquired teasingly. "You aren't going to threaten me away from her?"
"She'll murder you if you look her in the eye. I'm not worried." Merlin told him.
Arthur smirked. "Alright then, so, your twin is a murderous bitch, your younger brother is a trickster, I should watch out for the angelic demon twins, if I play my cards right your mute brother might paint me a picture, and at the end of the day you all hold hands and sing songs of great heroes around a fire. Anything I'm missing?"
Merlin, finished with cleaning the prince's chambers by now, plopped himself down in the chair next to Arthur's and took another bite of the apple. "The three youngest. Luken, seven, is the lovable one. He gets along with everyone, and you don't even mind if he talks your ear off. Animals seem to sort of gravitate towards him, and he hated it when one gets hurt. A few years ago he cried because Ameri stepped on a beetle. That's why I don't like hunting, I know he would disapprove."
Arthur nodded in understanding. He was pretty sure that Merlin would do anything for his family, even if they weren't there to see it.
"After him is the four year old, Kaytlyn Rebekah." Merlin grinned at the through of his baby sister. "She's brilliant, that one. She can't speak very well yet, but she's already learning to read. She is pretty shy around most people, even our other siblings, but she really is the sweetest little darling that anyone could have the pleasure of meeting."
Arthur suppressed a smile at his friend's face. "And the youngest?"
"Wesley." Merlin stated. "He'll be about a year old now. A bit slower than most his age in the learning department, but Ameri plans on making a fighter out of him." The smile remained on his face, but something that could be identified as guilt clouded Merlin's eyes. "I haven't been able to visit since Mum's funeral. Most of what I know about Wes comes from letters." The warlock shook his head. "No use lingering in the past. They'll be here any time now, so I think I'll go out to the courtyard."
Arthur nodded absentmindedly and rose to follow him. He had never had any siblings, and most of his playmates as a child were the children of knights, most much older than him. However, from the gleam in his manservant's eyes when he spoke of his family, something twisted in the prince's chest. Something that he just couldn't place.